Canes/Power

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Bigness indicates an abstraction, a whole standing for its several parts - a large central cornstalk represents all corn, a huge Thunder all thunders. Length is symbolic aspect of size. Sandpaintings gain power from elongation of figures as well as by repetition.

 


The all-inclusive nature of the universe means that all forces are integrated - good and evil, natural and supernatural, male and female - into a state of balance and harmony expressed by the word hozho. People who become involved in an act that disrupts this balance may be made ill by the forces thereby unleashed.

The purpose of most Navajo ceremonials is the healing of one or more individuals. This healing is accomplished by restoring the patients to hozho. Because healing is a by-product of the restoration to harmony, the root cause, rather than the recurring symptoms of an illness, is treated.

Navajo Religion, Vol I; Gladys A. Reichard, 1950

'ali'l, 'power; special, extraordinary power,' is well explained by Father Berard. Briefly, it is supernatural power beyond that which is ordinarily displayed. Generally 'ali'l is a part of the unusual Fire Dance or Dark Circle branch of a chant. One of my informants (JSS) says, "When a sing fails to cure, it is because 'ali'l was left out; to get well you have to have it. But it also means those who dance in the Dark Circle performance."
'ali'l is the cause of disease symptoms in the myth of the Shooting Chant: "In the stomach of Firstborn was the power [be'eli'l] of Thunder and Water People. That's the reason his appetite was poor. In his heart was the power of Wind, Crystal, and Mirage People that impaired his [Firstborn's] sight and hearing" (Ch. 15; Haile 1943a, pp. 13, 162; Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.).

Arms spread by Talking God and xactc'e'oyan stopped the fight between Black Thunder and Winter Thunder.
Winter Thunder stood up and spread his arms after he had accepted the prayerstick. All the people imitated him because they were pleased (Reichard 1944d, pp. 35, 45).

Arms waved by Water Sprinkler, who carried nothing when the gods moved Visionary and his harvest, kept the rainbow conveyance moving (Matthews 1902, p. 195).

Associations have been suggested as the key to the Navaho system of symbolism; for instance, associations between various aspects of deity-First Man, be'yotcidi, Talking God, xactc'e'oyan, Winds, Coyote, and Black God as manifestations of Sun; First Woman, Sun's Sky wife (Dawn Woman), and Earth as manifestations of Changing Woman (Ch. 5). Though they may often seem to be peculiar, these associations are by no means 'free,' but are held together in a stipulated pattern which only the details that compose it can explain.

Cane (gic) seems to be a symbol of ritualistic power; perhaps that is the reason why at the coming of the whites it became an emblem of government.
Changing Woman gave her people canes by means of which they got water from the desert; at the places where the people struck the canes into the ground certain clans originated. Spider Woman gave Scavenger a long black cane with which he gathered tumbleweeds to burn.
Canes are not much in evidence in the chants I describe, but they form a part of the Wind Chant bundles. In the Shooting Chant, one of the tests given The Twins by Sun was to walk on the tips of four upright jewel canes. They were able to do so with the aid of the life feathers given them by Spider Woman. The unraveling rite is the current representation of this episode.
Deer Owner's daughter, Conducting Self Teacher to the home of rare game, opened the entrance to the game reserve in a subterranean world with a turquoise cane or wand (Matthews 1897, pp. l52-3, 185, 201; Goddard, p. 169; Haile 1943a, p. 19; Kluckhohn-Wyman, pp. l15-6, Fig. 4; Reichard, Shooting Chant ms.).

Navajo Religion, Vol II; Gladys A. Reichard, 1950

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